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IT checklist for small business

March 2011

A small business is unlikely to have a dedicated IT Department or Help Desk. But all the tasks that a large organisation requires of its IT Department and Help Desk are also needed by a small business. A small business needs to make sure that those tasks are allocated either to someone within the business, or to an outside provider. Since the first version of this checklist was released, several trends have been observed. Firstly, small businesses are increasingly turning to an outside provider to manage their IT services (Lee & Gongming, 2007). Secondly, the use of online social media (Facebook, Twitter and so on) has increased exponentially. Finally, there is a need to close the loop by ensuring that the business is thinking about its own requirements and monitoring its strategy and service providers to ensure business needs continue to be met. This is a checklist for small business owners and managers to help them make sure they dont forget the important items. Each checklist item is designed to ensure the small business owner thinks clearly about their own requirements and prompts them for further action. Checklist items marked with a star are essential if IT is to be delivered well. However, at all times a business owner should respond to each checklist item as appropriate for their needs.

Using this checklist

There are four activities a small business needs to focus on to keep IT working. All businesses need to plan, build, manage and run IT (Gillies & Broadbent, 2005). This checklist considers areas of IT management by looking at each focus activity in turn. Each checklist item is intended as a practical tool to stimulate the business owners thinking. Plan
Have a plan for managing your IT investment for now and in the future

Build new systems and buy software to support your needs

Manage IT operations so that they support and deliver upon your IT needs

Keep an eye on your IT operations through review and evaluating

The checklist is designed for use by small businesses, but draws upon internationally accepted standards where appropriate. The principle resources drawn upon are Gillies (2008), Gillies & Broadbent (2005), Axelsen (2008), and COBIT 4.1 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007).This material is available for free online either through the CPA Australia website ( or the IT Governance Institute website ( Supporting material is provided where appropriate for users that need this support, however, the checklist is designed to be useful on its own.

IT checklist for small business

1. Set out a general strategic direction for your IT
It is hard to get to where you are going if you dont have a roadmap to get there. Make sure that you have at least a rough direction of what your IT needs to do, how this is to be achieved, and when it will be done.
[See COBIT 4.1 PO1, PO3 and DS6 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); the CPA Australia publication Business Management of IT (Gillies, 2008) may also be valuable.]

You have a short plan that outlines why you need IT, what it is for, and how it is to be used in support of the business. You know what sort of technology you need to have, what it needs to be compatible with, and what you might need in the future. Dont just buy what another company wants to sell you. You have an IT budget for the next 12 months that replaces out-of-warranty equipment and buys new technology you need.

2. Manage and mitigate IT risks

Like all aspects of business IT has risks to be dealt with. Be sure to have at least thought about the major risks to your business and how you might cope with them.
[See COBIT 4.1 PO9 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); see also the Risk Management Standard from Standards Australia (2009)]

You know how long your business can survive without IT before you cant catch up is it a week? 3 days? 1 day? 1 hour? You have written down the risks that might occur (from likely to unlikely) and how bad they might be if they do occur (from insignificant to catastrophic). You have a risk register detailing the worst of these risks, how they affect the key business function (e.g. sending invoices), how you reduce the likelihood of the risk arising, and regular tasks to reduce this risk.

3. Deliver upon the IT projects you set yourself

Being in small business you may have noticed a wish list is not always enough to get things done. Make sure the IT projects you sign up for are ones you need and can achieve.
[See COBIT 4.1 PO10 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); for extensive and complex guidance refer to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (Project Management Institute, 2008)]


Your IT projects are never done because they are fun but because they support the business. Your IT projects have a rough business case before implementing. IT projects have an outline of how they are going to be achieved, when they are to be achieved, and what they need to deliver.

4. Installing new equipment (servers, PCs, laptops, printers, scanners etc. along with their related drivers)
In a small business it is tempting to buy new equipment without having thought about how it will be installed. You dont want the entire business to come to a stop as five people try to install a new scanner just like the one we have at home.
[See COBIT AI3 and AI4 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

Make sure that the equipment you buy is suitable for a business network environment. Not all equipment suitable for home use will run on a business network. Make sure that new equipment has an appropriate warranty while not always good value, extended warranties can reduce the impact on your business if equipment does break unexpectedly.

If you dont have an onsite IT professional, when you buy new equipment consider arranging for the vendor to install it. While it may cost a little, it may be cheaper than having your staff fumbling at a task that is not their area of expertise. To reduce complexity, consider limiting your purchases to a few brands and types of equipment that you trust and are familiar with. Make sure that new drivers (e.g. printer drivers) are installed when you buy new equipment. Even if the new printer seems to work with the old drivers make sure that everyone is using the same drivers for the same printer.

5. Customising software to suit the needs of the business

Customising can mean lots of things: writing a quick macro in PowerPoint; creating a stand-alone application based on Excel; or writing customisations that live within your line of business application or accounting system. Sooner or later most small businesses will do one of these. Some can be done in-house by power users but if its something that is important to the business (and not just important to the user) you need a professional.
[See COBIT 4.1 AI1, AI2, AI5 and AI6 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); for a good overview also refer to the CPA Australia publication Delivering information and communications technology services to small to medium enterprises (Axelsen, 2008)]

You have decided what customisations are appropriate for your business and decided, in general terms, how they will be created. When is it appropriate to let the in-house power user have a week or two to work on some Word macros and when you will call in an expert? You have clear and exclusive rights to the intellectual property of software developed by third party contractors where that software is key to your business. Before customising software and building your own, you ask a mentor to be sure that you really need this customisation as you know that software customisations are often more expensive and take longer than initially thought.

6. Deploying existing software to new users, setting up new software and deploying new software to existing users
This task needs to be undertaken with some care. First, to ensure that the software is installed and set up appropriately and second, to ensure that licensing arrangements are followed.
[See COBIT 4.1 AI7 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

If you have an IT professional in-house then you have discussed how software is to be deployed and set up. If you do not have an IT professional in-house then you have established a working relationship with a professional who can guide you in deploying and setting up software. You have a firm understanding within the business of when tasks will be done in-house and when you will call in outside help.

7. Downloading, assessing and deploying security patches for operating system and applications
As long as malicious users try to breach systems through security holes in software, software vendors will be issuing security patches. In 2003, hundreds of thousands of machines were infected by the Slammer virus even though Microsoft had issued a security patch that prevented infection over six months earlier.
[See COBIT AI7 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have considered and decided on a policy for installing security patches. For example, you may decide to install all security patches as soon as they are made available. Or, if your line of business or back office systems are old, uncommon or heavily customised, you may have a policy of testing each security patch against your software to ensure that it will still work properly. You have allocated responsibility to one person for downloading, assessing (if necessary) and deploying security patches for the operating system and applications (line of business applications, back office systems and desktop applications). You have a process in place (perhaps a routine security audit by an external person) to check that security patches are being deployed appropriately.

8. Administration: maintaining records of software licences, domain names, service contracts for peripherals like printers, liaising with vendors
Your software licences are valuable. Its easy to install software on a machine and forget that it is there. It is also easy to forget what service contracts you have in place for your equipment. Finally, it is easy to forget to renew a domain name. Domain names are cheap, but very valuable. If you dont renew your domain name someone else can register it and you will struggle to get it back.
[See COBIT AI7 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); for a good overview also refer to the CPA Australia publication Delivering information and communications technology services to small to medium enterprises (Axelsen, 2008)]

You have allocated responsibility to someone to keep a list of what software is installed on every machine, with what licence to ensure that the business is complying with the licence agreements and is protecting the businesss assets. You have allocated responsibility to someone to keep a list of what domain names and web hosting arrangements you have, with expiry dates. You have a system in place to remind you of when to renew domain names (you should renew them about three months in advance of the deadline). You have allocated responsibility to someone for maintaining a list of all service contracts. Only one person is permitted to call a vendor for service.

9. Manage your IT is it adequate?
Much as wed like it to be, IT is not set and forget. Keep an eye on IT to be sure that the hardware you have is up to the task, and that your service providers continue to perform. Regularly review whether your IT needs are better met by an external IT service provider or in-house, depending on your business growth.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS1, DS3 and ME1 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); for a good overview also refer to the CPA Australia publication Delivering information and communications technology services to small to medium enterprises (Axelsen, 2008)]

You regularly review your IT for out-of-warranty equipment and replace such equipment when the technology is key to the business. You have an independent mentor to discuss your IT needs with from time to time. You regularly (at least every three years) test the market to be sure that your IT service providers are still the best fit for your business. When staff expectations of IT service providers are not met, the staff know they have someone to raise the issues with.

10. Meet your legal requirements

There are all sorts of requirements businesses have to meet. Be sure to meet yours or you may have unexpected fines when transgressions occur.
[See COBIT 4.1 ME2 and ME3 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007); also refer to the Privacy Commissioners Privacy Impact Guide (Office of the Privacy Commissioner, 2010)]

* * *

You have reviewed your small businesss privacy obligations at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioners website ( and and identified your legal obligations. You have policies to ensure that your privacy obligations are met. You have reviewed your small businesss record-keeping obligations as set out by the Australian Taxation Office ( and identified your record-keeping obligations.

11. Downloading and deploying daily data files for anti-virus software
Viruses are invented daily so you need to ensure that data files for your anti-virus software are downloaded and installed daily. Viruses in this context include all forms of malware, viruses, Trojans, spyware etc.
[See COBIT DS4 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have set up the anti-virus software to update hourly and to send an email alert to the responsible person or, if that person is away on leave or for illness, alerts go to someone else. If your business runs seven days a week then you have someone to receive and respond to alerts on all seven days. Your anti-virus software addresses viruses, Trojans, spyware, key-logging software and warns against suspect web pages.

12. Disaster recovery (e.g. after prolonged power failure, fire, flood, theft)
Your business may depend on your IT system and so you need to know that the business will survive even if the IT system is destroyed or damaged.
[See COBIT DS4 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have acted to prevent disasters by installing surge protectors, power conditioning and uninterruptible power supplies. You have software in place to enable a controlled shutdown of servers and you have tested these systems. You have a plan in place for how to get your business up and running again. For example, some businesses make an arrangement with a similar business to act as a warm site so that there is at least one computer in their office that you could use to load your backup and get your business running again. You have written out the steps to be followed after a disaster. Remember that as owner or manager you may not be available after a disaster to perform work like this, or even direct it. You have ensured that the relevant employees in the business know where to find the disaster recovery instructions and how to follow them. That probably means that the procedures are printed out and are preferably far away from the disaster area. You have practised your disaster recovery steps at least once with the current team of people.

13. Creating and maintaining in-house rules about access, permissions, passwords and other safety, security and administrative rules
Intruders, old employees and kids hacking for fun can access your businesss information unless you have rules for who can access what data.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS5 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have written rules (perhaps only one page) on who is allowed to access what data, how passwords or pass phrases are to be formatted, how often they expire, at what intervals they can be recycled and other security issues. Your rules mean that no-one ever has to share their password with another user. If users share a computer each person has an individual profile, user name and password. People in the office know that using someone elses password is like forging their signature. The businesss rules address safety issues such as ensuring that cables do not run across hallways or walkways, appropriate numbers of power outlets are available for IT equipment and that staff follow appropriate practices in using IT equipment to prevent accidents or injury. You have developed a communications strategy and have allocated responsibility to someone in the office for ensuring that new employees know about the rules. You have allocated responsibility to someone in the office to keep the rules up-to-date.

14. Creating, maintaining and deleting users from the network

New employees need to be added as new users to the network, and just as importantly, old employees need to be removed as soon as they leave the business.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS5 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have allocated responsibility to one or two people to add new users to the network (this will be the network administrator. You have a system in place where a new user can be added to the network so they can be productive from the day they start work (without having to use someone elses password to access the network). You have a process in place to maintain a central registry of passwords to business-critical files or applications, or to retrieve passwords from departing employees. For example, an accounts clerk may have passwords to the online banking, or employees may have password-protected individual documents that the business will need. The person who calculates the final pay for an employee leaving the business is responsible for informing the network administrator that the employee is leaving. The network administrator is responsible for disabling that user from the network as soon as they receive notice.

15. Creating and re-setting the network passwords

All new users on the network will need a password that they can change for their own needs. And whether we like it or not users forget passwords and can be locked out of the network.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS5 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

The network has a three strikes and youre out policy: if a user gets the password wrong three times in a row, the user is locked out of the network. The network administrator can re-set the password of someone who is locked out within a very short time (say, 10 minutes). Someone is allocated as backup for this task to cover meal breaks, leave and other absences. The network operating system is set up so as to require users to change their network password regularly (say, every month or every three months). Password rules (e.g. how long a password must be, and how frequently it must be changed) are appropriate to the circumstances but are not so difficult that users are tempted to write them down.

16. Setting up shared folders, granting / reducing permissions and managing disk quotas
Shared folders allow groups of employees to access the same files. Disk quotas restrict the amount of data that one employee can store on a server. There are security and performance implications for both.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS5 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

The business has appropriate rules in place so that people can see the data they need for their job, but data is generally secured. Someone (the network administrator) has been allocated the job of managing shared folders and granting permission to individuals or groups to see the files in those shared folders. Permissions to access shared folders are reviewed regularly (quarterly?) and permissions are deleted when they are no longer needed (perhaps because someone changed roles within the business). If appropriate, disk quotas are in place that limits the space that employees files can take up on servers. The business server is not the place for employees to store large files they have downloaded from the web. All business data should be stored on the server where it can be secured and backed up.

17. Training users in how to use new software and hardware

The more your users know about the software they use every day, the more productive they can be. You dont want office staff wasting time on page numbers every time they have to produce a Word document when a few hours of training would teach them how to do it once and for all. Few users manage to teach themselves anything beyond the basics but sending people to generalist Introduction to X or Intermediate Y courses often dont help. To be effective you have to specific.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS7 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have talked with the staff of the business and written down what tasks they need to perform using their software. You have made plans to get appropriate information or training for them to perform those tasks effectively and efficiently. You have a way of checking back with employees soon after training about whether they can now perform the relevant tasks. If skills learned in training are not used on the job immediately they may be lost and the training will have been wasted.

18. Acceptable use policy

Computers are powerful tools and increasingly their use for purposes unrelated to your business may affect you. Be clear to all your staff what they may use your computers for (and what they may not).
[See COBIT 4.1 DS7 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have an acceptable use policy that has been reviewed by, or provided by, an industrial relations expert that sets out what users can and cannot do with your IT equipment. The rules in place identify what personal use of computers and internet access is reasonable in the circumstances for this business. Online Social Media tools such as Facebook and Twitter may be used by employees and inadvertently affect your business reputation. Your acceptable use policy makes it clear to employees what they can and cannot do when using online social media like Facebook and Twitter.

19. Cleaning up machines that have been infected with viruses, Trojans, worms or other malware
In spite of your best efforts some machines will get infected with viruses or other malware (laptops are more vulnerable than desktop machines). You need them cleaned up properly, and in the case of severe infection, this is a job for an expert.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS8 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have decided how you will isolate infected machines from the network and employees know when to tackle the clean-up job themselves and when to call in an expert. If you dont have an IT professional on staff you have established a working relationship with an IT professional who can be available to clean machines at relatively short notice.

20. Answering basic questions from users about how to use the software and hardware and troubleshooting minor problems
Your investment in desktops, laptops and software licences is significant. It is no use investing in these unless your people can make use of the hardware and the software. And, while support and advice from colleagues is a good way to learn, you dont want the entire office to stop work while everyone crowds round one persons desk as they try to create a table of contents in Word.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS8 and DS10 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have allocated responsibility to one person (with a backup if necessary) to replenish stocks of paper, toner etc. for printers and fax machines. You have devised a process for users to get help in using software and hardware and troubleshooting minor problems (such as a printer not working). For example, the process might be that an employee first asks your in-house power user for advice and, if that person cant help, the employee seeks free help (from online newsgroups) or paid help (e.g. from an external advisor or trainer). Everyone in the business knows the process and you encourage them to use that process by following it yourself. New employees are told about the system and encouraged to use it.

21. Maintaining physical security over IT equipment, backup tapes or disks etc.
If someone steals your computers or your backup tapes you lose not only the equipment but all the data on it. Physical threat is as likely to come from careless or malicious staff as well as outsiders. Make sure you have your hardware and backup tapes or disks secured.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS11 and DS12 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have a secure, locked, air conditioned or well ventilated space for servers and other equipment that does not have to be out in the open. As few people as possible have access to this space. Someone in the office has been allocated responsibility for locking up the area where servers and backup tapes are stored. A backup person is organised to cover times when the primary person is unavailable because of holidays, illness etc. Backup tapes and disks are routinely stored off-site in a secure location. Where equipment is out in the open, or is left unattended for periods of time, desktop machines are locked to the desk or to a portion of the building structure. The business has a policy on security of laptops and mobile devices when out of the office (for example, employees may not leave laptops in a car).

22. Making, testing and restoring backups (from whole servers to single files)
What is your data worth? If you lost everything how long would it take the business to be up and running again? What would it cost, in time or money, if your business lost the last months data? A backup is only as good as what you can restore.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS11 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

* *

You have a documented backup process and you have allocated responsibility to someone for backing up data from servers every day. This includes reviewing the backup log for any issues relating to the success or failure of the backup, and responding to those issues. Someone is available, and is trained, to cover for your main person if they are away for a day. You have a documented restore process and you regularly (monthly? quarterly?) test that you can restore data from your backups. At least some backup media are stored off-site. For example, if you back up every day you might store every second days data off-site. It may be appropriate to keep regular permanent backups off-site, such as a backup of financial data after each end-of-month procedure is completed. You have a policy that requires users to store data that is crucial to the business on the server. If a user stores a file on a desktop computer, that file will not be backed up during the normal backup process.

23. Database administration (e.g. SQL server)

Very small, or micro, businesses may not run a significant database but most line of business applications and medium-to-large accounting systems rely on an underlying database. Database administration is a specialist skill and few small businesses would have an in-house expert.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS11 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have consulted with an expert administrator of your database (e.g. Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL etc.) to write out the routine steps to follow for good administration of the database including securing the database and backing it up. You have appointed someone as responsible for undertaking those routine steps. You know what you can do in-house and when to call in an expert and have communicated this to staff. You have established a working relationship with an external specialist who is familiar with your business and your database set up. You have arranged for that specialist to run brief regular (quarterly? six monthly?) checkups and be available to fix urgent database problems.

24. Setting up and maintaining the connection to the internet and liaising with the ISP when there are connection problems
For most businesses, the connection to the Internet is vital. The market remains volatile and ISPs are routinely dropping prices, increasing service speeds and broadening service offerings. You may not want to change ISP every six months but you should stay aware of changes in this market.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS13 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

In choosing an ISP you explore a wide range of possible vendors to get the services you need and the best value for money. Someone has been allocated responsibility of managing the technical aspects of connecting to the Internet. This might be the network administrator. This person deals with the ISP about problems with the connection. Someone has been allocated responsibility for regularly checking competitive pricing and service offerings from ISPs.

25. Troubleshooting network problems involving the WAN or LAN (including routers, firewalls, bridges, switches, cabling, wireless access points and devices etc.) and setting up and maintaining systems for remote users to log in to the network from home or while travelling
Perhaps the most frustrating IT problem is when the network goes down. It can be difficult to pin point the source of the problem and unless you have a networking expert in-house you may need external help.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS13 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have consulted with an expert in security related to your operating system and are confident that your network is secure. This is especially important if you have a wireless network. The network administrator has written down all the user names, passwords and settings for all network-related equipment. That information is kept securely but is available to those who may need it to repair network problems. You have arranged that at least one person is available at all times with basic knowledge of how the network operates. You have arranged for a network expert to write down basic trouble-shooting steps for your in-house person to follow in the case of problems. You have established a working relationship with an external specialist who is familiar with your business and how your network set up and can be available at short notice to fix urgent network problems.

26. Server management (e.g. mail server, web server)

Even micro businesses may run a server to manage mail but many small businesses will run print servers, mail servers and maybe web servers for intranet or internet sites. Server administration is a specialist skill and few small businesses would have an inhouse expert.
[See COBIT 4.1 DS9 and DS13 (Information Technology Governance Institute, 2007)]

You have consulted with an expert administrator of your servers to write out the routine steps to follow for good administration of the database. You have appointed someone as responsible for undertaking those routine steps. You know what you can do in-house and when to call in an expert and have communicated this to staff. You have established a working relationship with an external specialist who is familiar with your business and your server set up and can be available at short notice to fix urgent server problems.


Further reading
Axelsen, M. (2008). Delivering information and communications technology services to small to medium enterprises. Download from Gillies, C. (2008). Business Management of Information Technology. Download from Gillies, C., & Broadbent, M. (2005). IT Governance: A Practical Guide for Company Directors and Business Executives. Download from Information Technology Governance Institute. (2007). COBIT 4.1. Rolling Meadows, Illinois: IT Governance Institute. Lee, L., & Gongming, Q. (2007). Partnership or self-reliance: prescriptions for small and medium-sized enterprises. The Journal of Business Strategy, 28(6), 29. Office of the Privacy Commissioner. (2010). Privacy Impact Assessment Guide. Download from Project Management Institute, r. e. (2008). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (3rd ed.). London: Project Management Institute. Standards Australia. (2009). AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management - Principles and guidelines: SAI Global.


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